Sunday, August 31, 2008

“What people say about you when you’re not in the room…”

That’s my definition of a ‘brand’. Well actually, I heard it a conference once and it stuck with me as the best definition for a topic that in my opinion is horribly overanalyzed.

One of the most misleading things I heard about big charities brands was in an Aussie article a couple of years back. The focus of the article was that there was a direct correlation between the size of the top 50 or so Australian charities and their level of ‘brand awareness’.

Rubbish I thought! The point was being missed.

Brand awareness didn’t make these non profits the largest (by income) – it was the other way around. The reason they had such big brand awareness was because they all had one thing in common (maybe minus the odd exception) – they spent lots on fundraising. You think World Vision Australia has an annual income of near $300m(AUD) by luck? They spend around $25m per annum on fundraising.

The point is that spending on fundraising (and specifically recruitment of donors) is the best source of brand awareness for charities that there is. Who can convince me that plastering large billboards on a high street or spending on bus back advertising will out pull fundraisers on the street actually talking to the public about their great causes (I.e. people talking to people)?

I was reminded about this as I was flying back from New York yesterday and read an article on branding that caught my eye (most just put me to sleep or drive me crazy). The author was a guy called Guy Kawasaki, the magazine called Entrepreneur.

Guy’s message was simple: if you have a great product, a great brand will follow; so long as you are sending the right message. So simple yet so true.

He makes 8 really clear points, three of which really stuck with me.

The first was about creating one message and avoiding trying many at once, which many companies (and I know many non profits) do.

The second was about speaking English and avoiding using lots of jargon. Don’t try and be too clever – keep it simple!

The third which I liked was referring to companies stupid use of money when they have too much to spend on ‘branding’. He argued that ‘too much money is worse than too little, because when you have a lot of money, you spend a lot of money on stupid things, like Super Bowl commercials’. Now I would take a slight spin on that and add we do need money to spend but on things that will result in income and donors, which then help build who you are and what people say about you (not the other way around).

So what are people saying about you (or your organization) when you are out of the room?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What to learn from the Aussie Olympic team?

It pains me to say this, but Great Britain has headed their long time foes and my nation, Australia in the medal race at the Beijing Olympics. As a result, I’m looking for excuses because like any Aussie I don’t like being beaten by the Brits!

And in my quest to delve deeper into this unfathomable scenario, I did discover something which seems to be at the root of the Australian’s problems: complacency.

Consider these facts:

• The GB team spends more on its Paralympic team than the Aussies spend on both their Olympic and Paralympic teams combined.
• The British government is prepared to pour another 400 million pounds into Olympic sport in preparation for the 2012 London Olympics.
• Australian coaches have been poached en masse by the British, often at double or triple the salaries they were being paid in Australia, boosted by the proceeds of national lottery money.

Now, you could argue as a nation we are ‘punching above our weight’? 20 gold medals in Athens for a country with a population less than the state of Texas is pretty damn good. Yet we finished with 14 gold in Beijing which suggests somethign is awry.

So what the hell does this have to do with fundraising?

Well, like my current experience watching the Aussies slip ever so slightly down the medal table, I cringe when I see firsthand charities taking the foot off the pedal, not striving hard enough to get on the podium.

I recently met with a large Canadian charity to talk about some benchmarking we are doing of charities performance globally, and specifically in Canada.

The fundraisers I presented to loved it. Particularly the idea of being able to learn from others and picking the best of what they are doing that works.

However the meeting ended pretty abruptly when I was told there was one major barrier. There was a perception form certain parts of the organization (I won’t name names) that they couldn’t possibly learn from anyone else, they had all their bases covered and were leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else.

Now don’t get me wrong. This is one successful, very large organization that is doing well. But to think for a moment that nothing could be learned, refined, tweaked and absorbed from others in the sector is absurd. Especially when I have recently mystery shopped this organization and have seen for my own eyes what they are doing!

So as I watched the leader of the marathon enter the Olympic stadium with a lap to go, peering over his shoulder waiting for his challengers to surge, it reminded me of the way as fundraisers we should behave. Always on our toes and on the lookout for others. For if we aren’t then the same fate as the Australian Olympic team could await you.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Major Donors this afternoon?

I got told off by a fellow resident in my office last week because we made lots of noise. By me I mean me and some clients who were in the office. But there was a reason, and I reckon it was a bloody good one!

We had just participated in a session that Sean had delivered. It was entitled, Major Donors Next Week. And you guessed it, the focus was to attract some big gifts within a week.

The philosophy behind this approach is simple (says me who isn’t doing the asking!). Those clients who are brave enough to undertake this session with us, meet with major donors (or major donor prospects) within the next few days AND ARE PREPARED TO ASK, succeed. Those who don’t have less success.

Anyway why did I get told off?

Well, at approximately 4.55pm we struck gold. One of our clients who had participated in the training just solicited a $10k credit card donation over the phone. Amidst the excitement of this there were shrieks of joy, high fives and slaps on the back. Which was fun for us, but not so for the lady in the office next door. Oops!

The point is: the donation resulted because our client did something. They spoke to this particular donor with the intention of setting up an appointment. As it turned out he wasn’t fussed on meeting but he decided he would like to make a gift there and then. And just to play along with the script even more, he gave ten times the amount of his previous gift (coincidentally the amount he was going to be asked for in a face to face appointment)!

So, the question is, do we now rename the training Major Donors this afternoon? I don’t really mind, as long as I don’t get yelled at again!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It's not you, its me

If you’re like me, nothing drives you madder than someone you meet spending every breathing moment talking about their favourite subject: them. Their favorite type of curry, their views on what’s right and wrong with the world and even their two bob’s worth on Cristiano Ronaldo’s possible transfer.

We’ve all been there as we try desperately to excuse ourselves to visit the bathroom in the midst of them gabbling about their son’s upcoming football match. Actually, if we are really honest we have probably been guilty of this ourselves.

So if we get that, why do so many charity communications talk about us, the organization, rather than you the donor? And more importantly, those we are helping, the beneficiaries.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past six years analyzing how charities respond to unsolicited approaches from donors through a series of mystery shopping projects, where armed with real bank details we attempt to do a number of things including make real donations.

And I’m often astounded at the level and breadth of those communications which focus on the bricks and mortar of the charities we try to support rather on the impact our donations will have.

Consider these two pieces of contrasting copy within charity materials.

We at the are celebrating our 75th anniversary this year and we hope you will come on board us as we celebrate this momentous occasion in our history.


I would hope that you can join me in the fight against childhood cancer and to help little boys just like Tommy.

The first is entirely organizationally focused, insular and cares more about birthday cakes and party streamers rather than changing lives. In fact changing lives or the cause for which they exist is not clear from this sentence.

Contrast that with the second piece of copy. Personal (using language such as ‘I’ and ‘you’), uses empowering language and talks about human impact, using a real case study.

Time and time again, through critiquing hundreds upon thousands of charity communications I constantly feel let down and frustrated. I (as a donor) don’t want to know, nor do I care about anniversaries and parties. I want to know about someone like little Tommy and how I can help make a difference to his life.

So whether you’re sitting in Vauxhall or Vancouver, spend ten minutes looking at every communication that leaves your building. You may just be a little surprised at what you find.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Shopping in Canada: 'mystery shopping' that is..

No, I haven’t been spending all my time at H&M or wandering down trendy Queen St West. I refer to the recent mystery shopping exercise we have just completed here in Canada.

Over the past three months we mystery shopped 39 Canadian charities using 3 specific scenarios (an attempt to set up a monthly gift, an enquiry about leaving a legacy and a complaint). This follows 3 years worth of similar activity we have undertaken in Australia, NZ and Hong Kong.

The findings will be released shortly at Pareto Fundraising's next Masterclass in Toronto and during a session at the AFP Congress in Toronto (don’t worry we won’t be ‘naming and shaming’ poor performing charities). The focus of these sessions will be partly to look at how we as a sector ‘stack up’ including comparisons with similar studies in other parts of the world, but mainly focused on real and tangible ways to improve the levels of care you provide to your donors, immediately. And let’s face it, with everyone banging on about tough economic times, focusing on those you have, rather than those you don’t, is where your energies are going to be spent.

We’re in the midst of analyzing the results at the moment, but here are some teaser’s to get you by:

· In less than 20% of occasions did the charities mystery shopped actively promote monthly giving as a means for the donor to give (yet all of these charities have active monthly giving programs)
· We (the ‘donor’) were genuinely thanked for our offer to support in around 70% of cases. Which means the Canadian’s are doing better than the Aussies and the Brits, but the question remains, why isn’t this 100%?

Some of this, and more to follow, is pretty frightening (like the proportion of gifts that were never actually set up). But with the glass full, I’m positive that the charities mystery shopped will embrace the need to make change and look to others who are doing well.


Friday, August 1, 2008

Sole fundraisers flying the flag..

I meet some incredibly brilliant and inspiring people in my job. Actually sometimes I feel too fortunate to call it a 'job', but I digress...

More often than not these dynamic and great people are working as 'sole fundraisers' for various organizations.

I sometimes wonder what their job description says because I am sure that besides the obvious fundraising duties it must include everything from being able to deliver miracles from nothing, be expected to win wars that can't be won and all the time remembering that they are there to changes lives.

They really are the 'jack of all trades'.

But I would love to see more fundraisers from small/single 'shops' out and about, beating their chest, sharing what they have to offer with the rest of the sector.

You don't have to work for a large national or multinational nonprofit to be a leader, to have the runs on the board.

That's right, I'm calling on you wonderful people to stand up and be proud of what you do. Show off your brilliant fundraising efforts on websites such as SOFII, put your hand up to speak at industry conferences such as AFP's Congress and just generally 'get amongst it'.

Ok, I should finish now, I'm starting to rant using Aussie 'slang'...